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March 25th 1306

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Robert the Bruce gets serious

On February 10th 1306 Robert the Bruce murdered John Comyn (the Red Comyn) in the Greyfriars monastery , Dumfries. There are a number of legends connected to the murder, One quoted by Sir Walter Scott.

“That Bruce drew his dagger and stabbed Comyn is certain. Rushing to the door of the church, Bruce met two powerful barons, Kirkpatrick of Closeburn and James de Lindsay, who asked him what tidings? ‘Bad tidings,’ answered Bruce, ‘I doubt I have slain Comyn.’ ‘Doubtest thou?’ said Kirkpatrick, ‘I mak sicker!’ With these words he and Lindsay rushed into the church and dispatched the wounded Comyn. The Kirkpatricks of Closeburn assumed, in memory of this deed, a hand holding a dagger, with the memorable words, ‘I mak sicker,’

Whether the murder was pre-meditated or not the consequences were momentous. Both Comyn and Bruce had valid claims to the Scottish crown. By killing John Comyn, Bruce eliminated his rival, but at the cost of incurring the enmity of one of the most important families in Scotland. There was another factor. Since 1303, Comyn had been acting in the interests of Edward 1st of England and his murder was therefore a direct blow to the authority of Edward. Whether or not he had planned it this way from the beginning, there was now but one course open to Bruce - to fight for the throne of Scotland.

His task could hardly have begun under less favourable circumstances, with nearly all the centres of power in the hands of the English, with many Scots noblemen opposed to him and with the people of Scotland, though hating the English, afraid of the consequences of rebellion against Edward.

Yet, six weeks after the murder Bruce had himself crowned at Scone. Much of the traditional pageantry was missing. The stone of Destiny had been carried away by Edward ten years previously though as a substitute the Abbot of Scone lent his chair of State. The Bishop of Glasgow gave his best robes and a golden circlet was taken from one of the saintly images in the Abbey Church and used to crown Robert the Bruce.

At this solemn ceremony, from all Scotland there came but four bishops and five earls. Unexpectedly the Countess Isabella, wife to the Earl of Buchan, arrived with a large band of followers, claiming the right to perform the crowning ceremony herself. Since the crowning of Malcolm in 1057, she claimed, the Earls of Fife had claimed the privilege of crowning the King. Her brother, the Earl of Fife, was unfortunately a supporter of Edward, but she wished to carry on the tradition of the family. Rumour has it that it was not so much her feelings of ardent patriotism that dictated her actions but rather more personal and tender emotions.

Whatever the reasons, she suffered greatly for her actions. She was later captured by the English and taken to Berwick. Matthew of Westminster describes her punishment. “That most impious of conspiratrix, the Countess of Buchan, being likewise apprehended, the King commanded that, since she had not used the sword, her life should be spared; but, in regard of her illegal conspiracy, she should be confined in a building, constructed of stone and iron, having the shape of a crown, and suspended in the same at Berwick, in the open air; that she might thereby become a spectacle to all passengers, both during her life and after her death, and a perpetual example of opprobrium.”  She endured four years in the cage before she was removed to the monastery of Mount Carmel in Berwick.

There were hard times too for Bruce. Later that year he was defeated at the battle of Methven, hunted in the wilds of Breadalbane and finally escaped to Ireland where he and a few friends spent the winter. He was back in Scotland again the following spring and began the long hard struggle that finally culminated in the victory at Bannockburn.

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